“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Writing on the wall could change colour, not text
Pak polls may shut some shops in Kashmir

From Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 20: Developments forcing cardinal changes in Pakistan’s policies vis-a-vis militant Islam and Kashmir have been taking place in quick succession after September 11th, 2001. Be it General Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto, everybody supported the emotional policy of “driving the forces out of Jammu & Kashmir” by guerrilla warfare. The emotion went on for decades even as Pakistani’s struggle to win the “jugular vein” resulted in halving of its body in 1971. While the institutions of Army and clergy remained conveniently—and predominantly—relevent in all circumstances courtesy Kashmir, the Prime Ministers, including Sharif and Bhutto, did only supplement the frenzy. Notwithstanding a myriad of inner conflicts, it was all one entity in the matters of Kashmir.

September 11th has changed many equations in South Asia but it has pushed the Pakistani leadership so proportionately that yet again the Army and the political outfits of Sharif and Bhutto are one entity inspite of numerous conflicts within. Only the so-called Jihadi sections of militancy and clergy are on the other side of the fence today. In all of Musharraf’s “counter-terrorism operations” from Waziristan to Lal Masjid, Sharif and Bhutto were implicitly or explicitly supportive of the military action. Lal Masjid shrunk the space of even the so-called moderates to the dramatic extent that men like Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman of Jamiat-ul-Ulema Pakistan and Qazi Hussain Ahmed of Jamaat-e-Islami flew all the way to London to sign Sharif’s draft for restoration of democracy and eradication of “terrorism”.

For a mild face saving, Qazi had attempted to introduce a neutraliser by way of seeking condemnation to the British Government’s accolade of Knighthood on the blasphemous author Salman Rushdie. It was contemptuously ignored by Sharif under the spotlight. Qazi did neither revolt nor object to calling one-time Jihad as terrorism. In the next few months, Pakistan witnessed historic developments like Bhutto’s and Sharif’s return from ‘exile’, and finally the former’s death in a shootout—and now the National Assembly elections after an 8-year-long spell of the military regime—but the radical base is increasingly shrinking to extinction. Its impact on the situation in Kashmir—and more specifically the forthcoming Assembly elections in J&K—has perhaps begun to show.

In the last few weeks, Hizbul Mujahideen had declared that it would not use the gun to enforce boycott to the elections. Its political arm—Jamaat-e-Islami—has now declared that it was not going to run a door-to-door anti-election campaign. Last week’s admission into PDP of one-time confidante of the hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Abdul Khaliq Hanief, and senior pro-Pakistan leader Mehmood Sagar’s brother, Mushtaq Sagar, may not necessarily signify a change in the Valley’s political spectrum. Mehbooba Mufti’s announcement of “more separatist leaders to follow soon” may not, either. Yet, many people in Kashmir today believe that later part of the current year was going to witness one of the highest turnout elections, which could write the obituary of the 18-year-long armed strife in Jammu and Kashmir.

Among all moderate politicians in Pakistan, Imran Khan alone has so far sided with Jamaat. Musharaf-promoted faction of Pakistan Muslim League, which had some prospect of soft corner for the estranged radical allies, has been routed at the hustings. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman has won from his safety segment but he too has been demolished in his traditional stronghold of Dera Ismail Khan. With Musharraf pushed to the back seat, if not an ouster by impeachment, late Bhutto’s PPP and Sharif’s PML(N) have emerged as the new claimants of power. Given statements of both the parties’ leaders vis-a-vis militancy—which they call terrorism as forcefully as Musharraf does—as also the fact that Kashmir has for the first time not been an issue of emotion or populism in the Pakistani elections, it appears to be clear that the process of change over Kashmir would only be strengthened.

Inspite of Musharraf’s recent rhetorical expression that Pakistan would never “forget” Kashmir and the Kashmiris, fact of the matter is that before getting entangled in Chief Justice Iftikhar Chowdhary crisis in 2007, General-President has left Kashmir at a point where only a new military dictatorship or clergy could retrieve it. (Remember his outright negation of the UN resolutions, dismissing the options of accession to Pakistan and Azadi and asking for “anything between Azadi and Autonomy”). Since the elections have been widely hailed as free, fair and credible, neither Army nor clergy seems to shape Islamabad’s new policy vis-a-vis Kashmir, Afghanistan and militancy.

This phase of armed strife in Kashmir has clearly entered a critical juncture. Inspite of 50-odd incidents of infiltration in 2007, total number of “listed militancy” in today’s Valley, according to highly important officials, is “less than 200”. To get yet another life, Kashmir’s militancy and the separatist movement will need nothing less than a 1999—which created Kargil, followed by the strategy of Fidayeen attacks. Developments from New Delhi to Islamabad, Kabul to Washington and Srinagar to Muzaffarabad indicate neither. It is for nothing, thus, that Geelani has ceased to be one-odd potential successor to Sofi Mohammad Akbar of hometown Sopore and most of his estranged colleagues are blowing hot and cold between rising to the glamour of Sheikh Abdullah and fading out in the oblivion like the late Mahaz-e-Azadi chief.